A long time ago I had a boss who used to recite a little rhyme when he’d get into a discussion with other managers about how something ought to be done. It’s stuck with me:
My bat, my ball
My ass, my call
In other words, as the person in charge of our division, I’m the one who answers to top management if things go wrong, so I get to decide how things are going to get done. I thought of him as I read the results of a survey by General Electric (GE) and Edelman Berland, which asked respondents to choose their three most challenging best practices to implement for enabling innovation This was reported by eMarketer. There were two best practices which the respondents found most difficult to implement.
The first was creating a connected culture where idea-sharing is facilitated and where all the contributing parties are recognized and rewarded. The second was creating a set of metrics to decide which product or service should be funded or killed, as well as having a clear process and structure in place to manage innovation. These we cited by over 40% of the survey respondents. What struck me about that, and how it relates to my old boss’ saying, is that both are about control.
With respect to the first point. If you’ve worked in any organization larger than a handful of people you’ve probably come across the dreaded silo effect. You know what I mean: people not allowing anyone outside of their immediate group to see into their area and the lack of communication and cross-departmental support often found in large companies. As a boss, you can mandate that people play nicely with other departments but the reality is that unless you proactively facilitate it and monitor it, it doesn’t really happen. The second half of the point about reward is also about control since rewarding subordinates is often how managers keep people in line. Shocking news: managers often play favorites irrespective of some folk’s contributions.
With respect to the second point. That same boss had another saying: let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story. Again, a control issue. He wanted to decide what we did and how we did it. We would innovate HIS ideas and we’d kill something when HE decided, irrespective of the data we had.
The real challenge these points raise is that of being adult enough to relinquish control in order to gain control of the business. Turning a dictatorship into a benevolent monarchy is hard, but necessary. Are you up to the task?